Arun Shouries Articles

Talk at India First Foundation | May 28, 2008

Talk at India First Foundation
Arun Shourie

A 40-volume book series project, India: Religions and Political Challenges was launched on 23rd August 2002, by the India First Foundation. Among those present at the launching ceremony included Minister for Disinvestments, Arun Shourie, Gyanpeeth Awardee Nirmal Verma and Thinker and Social Worker S. Gurumurthy.

Excerpts of Arun Shourie’s Inaugural Address at the Launch:

In the sense American intellectual activity has been built on foundations. Agar aap koi bhi ek American scholar ko dekhen, he is one of the great psychologists today. They work the most on the physiology of the mind on consciousness. If you read any book of his, in its first five pages aap yeh dekhiye ki woh kin-kin ko acknowledge karte hain. The unknown foundations and it has been one of the great omissions of the Indian tax system that we have not allowed, not made it profitable for business houses and other people to set up foundations for intellectual activity. I also feel in the sense that we underestimate, what Ramswarup Ji used to call, the seed value of ideas. In India, intellectual effort is not gaining the attention that it should. I believe that no movement can be sustained for any length of time without a continuous influx of new ideas. Its very good example is the conservative revolution in economic and social policies in the UK and the United States. Ms. Margret Thatcher’s coming, and Ronald Reagan’s accession were turning point and, it was a result of twenty years of strenuous intellectual efforts. The settings of institutions like the Institute of Public Policy and so on, in which they themselves worked for twenty years ki ek taxation policy par aapko chaahiye there is an answer that has been worked out. It has been debated for a day. You want something on ecology, it has been worked out in detail. That kind of effort we must put in and foundations are the real way to do it because they bring persons together.

I also feel that there is a second lesson in India. Mr. J.P. Nayak khehte they ki India mein problem aata hai we don’t looked at it for many years. So that problem grows, it swells, it balloons, and explodes. Dekha… are problem hai isika. So what do you do? You set up an institution to deal with the problem. Ten years later the problem is still there and the institution is become another problem. The Institute for Advanced Studies, Nirmal Verma knows this very well. Hamaare yahaan advanced study nahin hai to Princeton ka naam lekar wahaan ki institution ek beautiful viceries ke lounge ko ruined kar ke institution banati hai. Institution has become a problem very little has come out of it. So may be there is another model and that is, we should not set up an institution which in a conventional sense has a building and a corpus. Those then become a points of contest. Jaise property inheritance per fight ho jaati hai families mein, isi tarah sansthaoon mein un cheezoon per fight ho jaati hai. May be what we should attempt in India is an Institution which disburses funds to individual scholars to meet there needs wherever they are. There are many examples of this kind that we should do and that requires a minimal need only connected with that particular work and it should be made available to the scholar wherever he/she is. There are two rules and this one is regarding in selecting the scholar. We must be brutally objective. Yeh lihaaz ki, he is a good person, he has a difficult times should not to be a criteria. The main issue is the objective of the series or of the books that we are planning and if it is able to do that, fine, and if it is not able to do it well, because he is starving then, we have to find some other way of helping him. We should not sacrifice the objectives of the institution etc. The second is that, there must be absolute strictness in standard and in delivery. If the time has been given January 2003 it must be January 2003, a particular date. In India, too many journals come up and they fade away. Foundations are set up and they fall into disuse. So that beginning is a good thing but it must be preserved. I think, the third point, which strikes me is that it is said that for intellectual work, actually very few persons are required. Aaj kal probably more are required because our mind was bombarded with impressions and images from all sides. But if you go back to 19th century the number of British Civil servant, who worked and actually forged the spectacles through which we came to see our history and our own tradition, was probably 25 or 30 percent. But the interesting thing was, that they did sustain work of the highest standard. Even today, India terms Dawson’s volumes are masterly thing and that time koi woh nahin thi district mein, koi electricity nahin thi, koi communication nahin tha, koi railway line nahin thi. A scholars was sitting on his own working day and night and producing things which would last for ages. So, that kind of sustained effort is very necessary. The second point in that individual’s effort is excellence. In India shoddiness is regarded as proof of commitment. Hamara libaas vaisa ho, jhola phata hua ho. That is regarded. Room untidy hai, contrast to Gandhiji’s meticulous ways, so that is excellence and actually in India excellence is under assault. Today mediocrity is the norm and that is why I feel this is very important especially in groups that are disciplined or dedicated and therefore they are groups on to themselves. They become deaf to others. So that striving effort that absolute determination that whatever I shall do will meet the approbation of the experts in that field. It is true the experts may be motivated. Often it is Marxist historians who will comment adversely on what this group produces for on history. But that is separate matter.

So, excellence should be one. I think the next point is that a group is that our work must add up. It must reinforce each other’s work. Kyonki ek aatish baazi jalaane se diwali to hoti nahin. Gurumurthy once used a very important phrase to me. He said a revolution is that when can we find that their is a revolution on that is when a million persons are spontaneously doing something that contributes to a particular phase and this is one of Gandhiji’s many incomparable skills that whatever any individual was doing he roped him/her into the national struggle. If somebody could give up his life he was the part of the nation, if he couldn’t but could go up to jail he was the part of the nation struggle, if he could not but could wear Khadi, he was the part of the nation struggle. Still if you couldn’t but only spin at home because he was a government officer could not go to Khadi and become black ball in the office he could spin at the home and still be the part of the nation’s struggle. If you couldn’t do that and you just did Sandhya which was roped into the nation’s struggle. It was accumulation and therefore the work of scholars must also add to each other that is why the importance of what Dina Nathji has initiated of doing — a series and not just an individual book.

We had many great examples of series for instance, Max Muller’s fifty volumes on “The Secret Books of the East” changed the west view about the east because it was a series and not just one book. In our own time the corpus that Sita Ram Goyal has produced has presided over has got it the people doing to Voice of India publications actually are cumulated. They reinforce each other from different direction. That is why they provide a pair of spectacles. One of the best examples I have seen, is by the Dalai Lama’s initiative there is a thing called the Library of Tibet. It’s a series of books and the second is that you know its great truths need to be restated in a language and example and medium and addressing problems of the time. We just keep reading the classics. Many of us may infer the lesson that holds our life at this movement. We often discover that in the reading The Dhampad or The Gita or any thing that this is the phrase that oozes into my heart today because my circumstances has allowed me to see the truth of that but most people will not be able to do it most of us are not as reflected. Therefore the great truths have to be restated and that’s a very interesting point in this library of Tibet series. They are just not reprinting the Tibetans religious literature the Dalai Lama and the other Lama’s are giving discourses on those teachings and thereby introducing them into our current labs. That is why the spectacles that we may have or the truths that we may have internalise or which we want to propagate and share with others. They have to be restated in the medium and contact of our child’s.

I end by reflecting on the point of books. I think the first point that I have learnt Nirmal Verma and others are creative writers so they think spontaneously. But people like me are bookish writers and we read books and write our own books. Two, for example stood are in good steps one is reading is the enemy of writing. Many of us continue to read and accumulate. I have a sister in law who has done a book on The Ramayana and Indonesia because she discovered a temple of Shiva in a remote Island in Indonesia. But she has gone eight years on that book but can we even right the perfect book. One of the greatest in world influential economics and trade marshal wrote a principles of economics which we all memorize, which is the great text book on micro-economics but he never wrote the second volume because he was always perfecting this particular volume and reading more about it. So we should read to accumulate evidence and then just not wait to write for a charity. Second thing I found is re-writing is the secret of good writing. It is very necessary but that we should try to re-write even ideological works. I feel that strong words detract from the force of the argument. I give an example of a friend. Look at Baljit Roy’s work on Bangladeshi infiltration. It is very important. It contains primary evidence but it uses strong words and thereby the words over come the facts. So while writing the books one has to remember that the facts speak for themselves.

Thank you.

India First Foundation

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